Aside from more sophisticated health-related sensors crammed inside, smartwatches have stayed pretty much the same over the past two years. Given the popularity and sales that the Apple Watch enjoys for this reason, it is not surprising that few would want to stray from this well-trodden path. That’s why someone like Nubia who dares to come up with something new definitely turns their heads. But is the Nubia Watch’s large and semi-flexible screen enough to make the leap in confidence on Kickstarter? We’re allowed to wrap one around our wrist to give you that answer.
The big disclaimer
The first is the first: This isn’t Nubia’s first “flexible” smartwatch, and this Nubia watch isn̵
In short, the review unit that Nubia fully disclosed before actually launching it is just a finished product in terms of hardware and design. The software, or rather the international version of the Nubia Watch software, is still in the works, as we’ll see later. Features are being added, I was told which is why this is titled an early review. Now for the show!
In terms of core specs, at least the ones you don’t see, the Nubia Watch sounds pretty ordinary. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100, which is pretty old. For better or for worse, however, this is what most Android Wear smartwatches use, so in this case, it’s not exactly that badly. It also has 1GB of RAM, which is pretty generous, and an advertised 8GB of storage. However, only 4 GB of this memory is immediately available.
The Nubia Watch has the usual sensors for activity tracking, but it also has a heart rate monitor and automatic sleep tracking. This actually makes it a great workout companion apart from two factors. It’s only IP54 certified and even then, you probably want to avoid accidents that are sure to damage this flexible screen.
All in all, the Nubia Watch’s performance was pretty solid, and the user interface was smooth and fluid. However, where it came up short is in the battery department. With a 425mAh battery, Nubia’s 7-day battery life sounded almost too good to be true, and it was. We only had about 36 hours with 50% brightness, GPS and Wi-Fi off, and minimal notifications. You can probably extend it to 7 days right if you’re working in sleep mode and just that. However, in that case, you might as well get a digital watch but not smart.
The Nubia Watch specs are pretty normal, but that wouldn’t be why you’re interested in this wearable anyway. The main selling point, of course, is the flexible 4.01-inch screen that almost wraps around your wrist and delivers that way. If you really want people to notice you have to be content with the fact that the display is almost always on. Otherwise, it almost looks like an oversized fitness tracker.
The Nubia watch is rather large and a little heavy, but not enough to be uncomfortably heavy or tire you on your arm unless you always have the watch’s arm up. After a while, it will feel more natural, almost undetectable, which is likely a bit risky as you could accidentally bump it against a surface.
The straps are a typical silicone affair and, amusingly, rather short because they dangle from the long, flexible screen. Nubia includes a longer strap replacement if you have larger wrists. The silicone is on the softer end of the spectrum, while the plastic clasp is pretty tight to the grip, so at times I fear I’d tear the strap off if I took it off.
Nubia is promoting the watch’s display as a 960 × 192 (4.01-inch) flexible AMOLED screen. While this applies to the entire display, you can only see and feel this flexibility at the ends. The flexibility allows the edges to curve evenly around the edges, but the main area of the screen still sits mostly flat on a very solid and very boxy body. It would probably have been better if the center area had also gently curved to form a cuff for an even better visual effect, but this could also have put more stress on the flexible screen.
Other than that, the screen is really beautiful. Its maximum brightness is clearly visible under a bright afternoon sky and the colors really stand out. The novelty of seeing a curved screen on the wrist isn’t getting old anytime soon, even if the practicality of this design still leaves many questions unanswered. The downside is, of course, you’ll only appreciate this when the screen is on, and it’s admittedly tempting to leave it that way and just manually turn it off with a pinch of gesture if you want to save some battery.
The Nubia Watch is great to look at, but is it actually a useful smart companion? Given the large disclaimer at the beginning, the answer is a solid “not yet”. Don’t get me wrong, it has the basics from keeping activity tracking to heart rate monitoring to showing notifications. But that makes it more of a hybrid digital watch than a smartwatch and leaves a lot to be desired in the current state of the “intelligent” department.
Part of the problem lies in the Nubia Wear app, or at least in the international version of the app. Again, Nubia says it’s not the final version yet, but there should probably be a long list of things to fix. Pairing the watch with a phone is actually quite simple. Just download the app, open it and scan the QR code displayed on the Nubia Watch. The app is pretty bare and shows a dashboard of your stats at startup and a list of settings for syncing data between your smartphone and smartwatch.
Unfortunately, practically none of this works other than specifying which apps can send navigation to your phone. No synchronization of contacts and calendar appointments, music or photos or even the bizarre marquee works, which makes its functionality on the smartwatch itself practically unusable. It seems that the synchronization feature needs to be enabled on the market side on the server side, which is an odd and honestly worrying arrangement.
On the Nubia Watch itself, the apps are pretty bare, especially when things like music, schedule, and news barely work because of the above problem. You can make calls, but you have to enter the number manually. With the marquee, which is amusingly marked “Barrage” on the clock, you can only select pre-installed animated “background images”. The company says more apps will be added later, especially social media apps. However, for now, backers may be a little concerned about what is currently available. Fortunately, it won’t be shipped until the next month.
The biggest question is, even without concerns about the software, whether such a flexible smartwatch is at all practical and at all useful. The smartwatch may have a bigger display to show more content, but our eyes can really only come up to a certain angle before the information falls out of view. Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple and largely depends on what comes next.
There’s actually a lot you can see from your peripheral vision, and the larger screen, whether flexible for ergonomics or not, can mean you have less scrolling or typing compared to a traditional square or worse, circular display. The edges can also be used to pick up less important objects or to provide helpful visual cues. They can even be used to display some information, depending on the orientation of the user’s wrist, so that they don’t have to twist their wrists as much.
However, this largely depends on how much work Nubia is willing to put into improving its own user interface, let alone what other third-party apps could be added later. It may also depend on Nubia opening the clock for third-party developers to take advantage of the innovative but otherwise underutilized screen.
Summary: managing expectations
The Nubia Watch is definitely an eye-catcher. Remember that the screen is almost always on. The hardware is decent by the unfortunate standards of smartwatches these days and the screen is breathtakingly beautiful, like a fragile snowflake. But is that enough to sink $ 199 in an Early Bird Kickstarter bonus, let alone the full $ 400 when it goes on sale?
That is, in all honesty, a difficult answer to give right now, especially without a crystal ball to tell the future. Currently, the Nubia Watch is nothing more than a hybrid watch with a flexible display, a novelty that only collectors will no doubt try to grab. However, if Nubia keeps its promise and holds out well, we could be looking at one of the most innovative smartwatches of the year. We reserve our final judgment and will score a goal by then.